by Briana Campbell (@MsMatchGirl)
Last week we pondered why people were so nervous about what may come of the use of social media platforms. It’s just technology, after all.
The events of the past year have led many people to think that social media is more than that. That social media is not just a platform for communicating, albeit quickly, with others in your circle or with shared interests. That a BlackBerry is more than a phone. Somehow social media has played both the hero (Arab Spring) and the nefarious villain (UK riots) in recent events.
But is this really the case?
In my opinion? No.
Facebook, Twitter, Google+ … these are all platforms for communication. They enable near instant cconversation with like-minded people. They enable someone to put out a call to action – and for that action to be taken faster than ever before.
In the wake of the UK Riots, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested shutting down Facebook and Twitter, as well as Blackberry RIM, in order to prevent the hooligans from coordinating and communicating. Soon after, representatives of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) in San Francisco, CA (half a world away from the UK riots and looting), shut down cell service on their subway platforms, hoping to halt a protest.
In the aftermath of the UK riots, people took to those same social media platforms to help people out. Some interns at the BBH Barn took it upon themselves to start a campaign called Keep Aaron Cutting, where they hoped to tell the story of, and gain assistance for, an 89 year old man whose barbershop, in the Tottenham area, where he’d cut hair for 41 years, had been destroyed in the fire. Not only did these interns share Aaron’s story using the same social media platforms that the UK government was speaking about shutting down, but they raised £35,000 (about $57,575 US) to rebuild his shop and get him back on his feet. The amount beyond what Aaron needs to support his rebuild will be given to help others devastated by the riots.
Some other good news that came, via social media platforms in the wake of those riots:
- £22K was raised for a Malaysian man severely whose jaw was broken in the riots.
- A blog called Riot Cleanup was founded to showcase those in need and to put them in touch with people who could help.
- #RiotCleanup trended on Twitter – calling people to action and to take back their cities.
David Cameron, the UK PM, was quoted as saying “Everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.”
Here’s the thing. If people want to riot, they will riot. If people want to organize, they will organize. No amount of government interference will be able to stop it. Social media platforms are simply that, platforms for communication.
For better or for worse, social media platforms are here to stay. And they will continue to evolve as a method of communication for people all over the world. It seems to me that the authorities would be better off educating themselves about these platforms, instead of simply trying to control them.
What do you think?